New skills for Project Managers: What is required in today’s environment?


Do project managers now need different skills to succeed?

In the last few years the skill-sets required of project managers have changed. The traditional hard-bitten, deliverable focused and sometimes blinkered project manager is still required (otherwise many projects would not get delivered at all) but there are new skills needed to match the faster changing business and technology environment. Agility, flexibility, creativity and all importantly the ability to collaborate are becoming critical parts of the project manager’s toolkit.

Traditional Project Structure

The traditional role of the project manager was to solve a specific problem by completing a project, to specification, on time and on budget. These were his success criteria generally within the framework of a set methodology such as Prince II.

After a few projects and a bit of training the execution of a project was relatively straightforward and also pretty much fixed in scope, time and cost. The traditional lifecycle was as follows:

  • Starting up a Project
  • Initiating a Project
  • Directing a Project
  • Controlling a Stage
  • Managing Stage Boundaries and Scope
  • Managing Product Delivery
  • Closing a Project

As projects progressed then requirements could change with a change request process with estimates of impact on time and cost and a change board or steering committee would help guide the project to success. Generally, though, projects finish as they start with the same objectives and goals, those that don’t generally don’t finish (successfully anyway)

Successful Project Manager Skills

So what makes a good project manager? Asking around several of our consultants and clients there are a few core characteristics that generally exist in successful PMs

  • Organisational ability
  • Discipline
  • Focus & Drive
  • People Skills
  • Communication
  • Openness
  • Pragmatism
  • Thick skin
  • Sense of humour…

In addition business knowledge of the delivery area is essential – not the detailed skills of the BA’s and technical teams but enough to be able to understand and talk coherently around the subjects.

Emerging Project Structures

The business world is changing and becoming more uncertain. Timeframes are being compressed, internal and external events are having bigger impacts on the running of organisations. This coupled with the social expectations and skillsets of the next generation of users means that that project managers require a new set of tools in their toolbox. Often a clear remit or scope on a project is not available or changes with events and time.

New Skills Required For Project Managers

To cope with these challenges additional skills are needed to be successful with a project:

Collaboration – the command, control and direct aspects of delivery are still critical but PM’s require the buy-in, co-operation and knowledge of a broad team (often not under the direct management of the PM) then collaboration and empathy/emotional intelligence become more and more important.

Agility – organisations and their environments are changing at a faster pace so the ability to take stock and the strength to change direction mid-flight is now a required skill. Blindly completing a project and marking it as a ‘success’ as the original (now defunct) deliverables have been completed on time, on budget are now not acceptable.

Creativity – is becoming more important as solutions and the desired outcome changes often. Creativity has sometimes previously been seen as a disadvantage in a project manager. It could be ‘distracting’ and mean the goals are not met. Identifying and executing creative solutions to tricky problems encountered on the path of a project some of most valued skills a PM could possess.

We have a team of project managers that, along with their battle scars and medals from successful previous projects and programmes also have the people and creative skills to deliver projects in the current and future environment. Please contact Jo and we can see how we might help.

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Posted on : 27-06-2012 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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Comments (1)

The delivery focused approach is often necessary for time and business critical projects where adaptations and lessons learned could be incorporated later into a BAU support and maintenance programme. I have used the “new” approach for many years in-conjunction with Agile / DSDM type project methodologies. One of the most important factors is to thoroughly engage the project with all levels within business to maximise co operation, requirements understanding and facilitation. This requires transparency from the project (for good and bad) and a flexible and open approach. Likewise, the business should be prepared to own some risks and issues and meet their commitments within the agreed timescales

This approach has delivered requirements meeting business real needs and gained business buy in from the very early project stages. Creativity is engendered with a flexible “open book” approach where the client can see the impact of their changing demands on timescales and costs. This now is ably supported by current day delivery tools making the project process a rewarding and satisfying experience.

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